No official dialogue has thus far been established between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (under the Moscow Patriarchate’s jurisdiction until May 2022) and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (which received autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2019), yet this is not an insurmountable obstacle to the informal dialogue on the grassroots level. Active priests and lay persons from both communities, supported by the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic and Religious Affairs (DESS) and several NGOs, are engaged in this dialogue. Their second meeting occurred on February 16, 2023, in the National Sanctuary Complex Kyiv Sophia. Before the meeting, participants prayed together for Ukraine; for the unity of Orthodoxy in Ukraine; and for soldiers, captives, the wounded, refugees, and volunteers. Archpriest Georgy Kovalenko conducted the prayer service. All other participants in the priestly ranks were without their epitrachelions, but they all prayed together. We publish the final document of this meeting below.
I. Russia’s military aggression against the sovereign Ukrainian state was the culmination of centuries of imperial pressure on our people’s spiritual and cultural identity. Guided by imperial chauvinistic ideology, under the slogans of the “Russian world,” Russia has always denied the right of the Local Ukrainian Church to exist. The Russian Orthodox Church invades the canonical territory of Ukrainian Churches and blesses Russia’s occupation and war crimes on the territory of the Ukrainian state.
II. In this challenging time, it is crucial to preserve the Ukrainian people’s spiritual unity, which originates in the ancient Kyivan Orthodox tradition. Therefore, we strive to achieve the unification of all Orthodox Ukrainians in one conciliar and local (autocephalous) Ukrainian Orthodox Church, recognized by the entire Orthodox Christian community. We realize that the way may not be easy, but it is our duty to start this movement.
III. We are aware that among a significant number of clergy and laity of the two Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdictions, there is a profound alienation, distrust, and the formation of an “enemy image” that leads to mutual dehumanization. That is why we insist on the need to reset our relations; we feel a mature need to renew our ties to get rid of old claims and prejudices. It is also essential to change the information policy and the rhetoric of mutual devaluation of representatives of both Churches (UOC and OCU) to create the preconditions for dialogue. The Ukrainian episcopate must rise above corporate interests and begin a dialogue for the sake of unity.
Many believers and clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are convinced that the changes in the subordination of religious communities are illegal and also express doubts about the canonical legitimacy of the OCU hierarchy. Instead, Ukrainian society and the faithful of the OCU demand that the leadership of the UOC more strongly condemn the manifestations of collaborationism by individual members of the UOC clergy. Under wartime conditions, the Ukrainian state is concerned about the continued destructive influence on society of structures subordinate to the aggressor state. Therefore, draft laws are being initiated that would make it impossible for religious organizations affiliated with the center of influence in the aggressor country to operate, which would require severing the church-canonical connection with the Moscow Patriarchate.
Given this, we perceive the state and civil society of Ukraine as essential participants in the dialogue of unity between the UOC and the OCU. We see the possibility of relations between the Orthodox Churches and the state and society based on the principles of the rule of law, mutual respect, and partnership. Therefore, we call for a broad discussion of those legislative initiatives that address complex and often painful issues of religious life.
IV. While acknowledging the different views in our communities on these issues, with the understanding that the existing conflicts have no easy and quick solution, we nevertheless propose the first steps for our rapprochement and call on the bishops, clergy, and faithful
– to cooperate at the level of territorial communities in Christian cultural and educational projects, as well as in all types of social service to our neighbors that the Lord Jesus Christ commanded us, first of all, in caring for our defenders and those who are especially vulnerable during the war: those who have lost loved ones, the wounded, orphans, those deprived of their homes and other victims;
– to promote the possibility of participation and joint worship of representatives of both churches during cultural and religious events of local and national importance;
– to the common prayer of the clergy and faithful of our Churches, where possible: molebens, memorial services, burials (especially if it is the burial of a soldier-defender who died defending Ukraine);
– to recognize the fullness of the Divine grace in the church sacraments and rites in our Churches, including baptism and ordination of all orders;
– to make every effort to overcome the existing barriers that impede the primary goal of our unity – the Eucharistic communion of the communities of both Churches.
V. We call for a direct dialogue without any preconditions to develop models that would make it possible to unite the UOC and the OCU into one Local Church in the future. For this purpose, we propose to create a joint working group, which would include bishops and professional theologians of the local Orthodox Churches, to develop a step-by-step Unification Plan. We also expect the leadership of the UOC and the OCU to promulgate a more explicit position on inter-Orthodox dialogue. We hope the unification process will begin soon and take shape this year. We know that resolving the interchurch conflict in Ukraine is only possible with the active mediation of representatives of world Orthodoxy, particularly the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in cooperation with whom an international forum for dialogue should be launched.
VI. We sincerely hope that our voice will be joined by thousands of believers of both Churches who care about the fate of Orthodoxy in Ukraine and seek unity and victory in the struggle for our independence. Only through joint efforts can we overcome mutual hostility and make Orthodoxy in Ukraine united and our society integral, solid, and successful. Each of us believes that there are no problems and misunderstandings that cannot be resolved in the spirit of Christ’s love: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another.” (John 13, 35).
VII. On the occasion of the full-scale Russian invasion on February 24, 2023, we call for the initiation of joint prayers for the victory of Ukraine and the coming of a just peace, as well as for the fallen soldiers and victims of Russia’s military aggression.
Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.